Thursday, September 21, 2017

Last of the Summer ISS Traffic

Space Voyagers prepare to bard their spacecraft. Top to bottom: Alexander Misurkin, Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei.
As we approach the time for summer to transition to fall, one spacecraft arrived at ISS while another took its leave. Soyuz MS-06 lifted off from Baikonur on Tuesday, carrying the second half of the Expedition 53 crew. The Soyuz was piloted by Soyuz commander Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos), and flight engineers Joe Acaba and Mark Vende Hei both of NASA. Both Misurkin and Acaba are veterans of previous space missions. Vande Hei is making his first trip into space. The crew will stay aboard the International Space Station for five and a half months, eventually becoming the lead half of Expedition 54.

Soyuz rocket departs at night from Baikonur.

The crew joins Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and flight engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos) and Paolo Nespoli (ESA). As well as working on over 200 experiments in the next half year, the team is preparing for three spacewalks during October. 
After undocking, the Dragon gently moves away from the ISS before commencing re-entry procedures.
On the 17th, the SpaceX Dragon unmanned cargo ship undocked and was moved awy from its berth by the robotic arm, under the control of astronaut Bresnik. Once at a safe distance, ground engineers fired the descent thrusters and slowed the craft for re-entry. Splashdown in the Pacific off of California took place at 10:14 a.m.  This had been the 12th resupply mission with Dragon for SpaceX.

Space Station parking before the Dragon left the station.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

X-37b Launches before Kennedy Gets Hit by Irma

Falcon 9 rocket with X-37b aboard launches from Kennedy Space Center. (SpaceX)

SpaceX Made a beautiful launch Thursday of their Falcon 9 rocket, this time without their Dragon resupply space capsule. In another first for the company, the US Air Force had chosen SpaceX to lift the secretive X-37b re-usable winged spacecraft into orbit. Normally the Atlas V has been the rocket of choice, but now the military is looking to lower costs and prove the concept of using different boosters. 

An X-37b spacecraft on the runway after landing. Service crew gives a good indication of size. (NASA)

This was the fifth launch of an X-37b. While the Air Force does not announce which of the two spacecraft was in use, NASA reports that the Air Force alternates between the two craft, which would mean this is the third mission for the first spacecraft to fly. The Air Force also does not comment on the expected length or purpose of the mission. Fans of the X-37b will be diligently following any reports by satellite spotters of changes in orbit. 

Damage to the Vehicle Assembly Building after hurricane Matthew in 2016. (NASA)

Shortly after the launch, and then the recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage, the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX, the Air Force, and other companies located at Cape Canaveral began shutdown and safety procedures in advance of this weekend's hit by hurricane Irma. The hurricane is very wide and although it is set to travel up the length of the Florida west coast, the storm will reach to the other side of the state and could cause damage to structures and equipment. 

For more information on the threat levels used by NASA and the story of how the Space Center prepares for a hurricane, check out the detailed article at NASA

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Expedition 52 Returns to Earth

Great picture of Soyuz MS-04 landing.

Alas, it was time for her to come home. Peggy Whitson left the International Space Station after 288 days, some of which was unplanned but welcome. That means she now holds the American record of 665 days in space throughout all her missions. The World record is held by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has currently 879 days in his name. He will have more, as he is scheduled to return to the ISS in September next year.
Preparing to close the hatch to Soyuz MS-04. L-R: Peggy Whitson, Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Jack Fischer. They undocked from ISS at 5:58 pm on Friday. Landing occurred at 11:22 pn Eastern time.

Originally, MS-04 was supposed to land with only two occupants. It had arrived at the ISS four and a half months ago, with just Yurchikhin and Fischer on board. The Russian agency Roscosmos was temporarily reducing crew members while a new space station module is under construction, due to be installed on the ISS next year. This allowed NASA to keep Peggy Whitson on board for extra time and increase the availability of slots for NASA personnel. 

Crew of ISS with flags from participating nations.

Officially, once the Soyuz undocked, Expedition 53 began under the command of NASA astronaut Commander Randy Bresnik, and crewed also by flight engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos) and Paulo Nespoli (ESA). They will be on their own until more crew arrives in mid-September.

You can read more about Peggy Whitson's career in space at NASA

Sunday, August 20, 2017

ISS: Dragon Arrives and Russians Take a Walk

SpaceX Dragon resupply cargo vessel orbiting Earth and about to dock with the ISS. NASA pic.

SpaceX made another great launch last Monday, August 14th. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted the Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit, and then flew back to Earth for a soft landing back at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon carried thousands of pounds of supplies and experiments for the crew on Expedition 52 in the International Space Station. 

NASA graphic of the current spacecraft locations on the ISS.

After a two day "chase" the Dragon spacecraft caught up to the ISS and maneuvered into a capture position. Astronauts Jack Fischer and Paulo Nespoli used the robotic arm to grab the capture point and guide the craft to its docking adapter. Eventually the spacecraft was secured at the new Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) on the US Harmony module. Dragon will remain at the station for unloading, and then reloading of items to return to Earth in September.

Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchkhin (L) and Sergey Ryazanskiy (R) preparing to exit.

On Thursday, August 17, Russian cosmonauts conducted an EVA to launch satellites and bring samples back inside. Expedition 53 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy left the Russian Pirs module for a seven hour spacewalk. They launched five nanosatellites that had been stored outside the station from a previous supply mission. One of the satellites was to test 3-D printed materials, while several others were commemorative or experimented with communications.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

ISS: The View from the Cupola.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson doing what any one of us would do in space: Look back at Earth. (NASA)

When members of the International Space Station aren't doing experiments, maintaining the station, eating, or doing hours of exercise, they share a common interest: looking at home. In the photo above, posted by astronaut Peggy Whitson, she comments that even after 638 days in space, she finds the view incredible. She is pictured above during some personal time in the cupola, the station's best viewport of the planet Earth. Click to enlarge. There is a Russian spacecraft visible in the upper left, and a solar panel just off to the center left.

What would you most want to view from space?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Three New Crew for Expedition 52 Arrive at ISS

Contact! Soyuz crewed spaceship MS-05 reaches the docking port on the International Space Station. (NASA TV)

 ISS Expedition 52 received three new crewmembers with the arrival on Friday of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Using the six-hour ascent interception plan, the Soyuz reached the station safely and docked at 5:54 Eastern Daylight time. On board the spacecraft were Soyuz commander Sergei Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos), astronaut Randy Bresnick (NASA) and astronaut Paulo Naspoli (ESA). The crew now stands at six, including Expedition 52 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos), Peggy Whitson (NASA), and Jack Fischer (NASA). 

Soyuz training photo. L-R: Paulo Nespoli, Sergei Ryazanskiy, Randy Bresnick.

The new crew is expected to remain on the ISS for four months. During that time, the station expects arrivals from Dragon, Progress, and Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Much of the science work for this mission will involve medical studies including an interesting look at how Parkinson's disease is started. They will also study how small satellites can be used in critical situations such as natural disasters or severe weather monitoring. The original Exp. 52 crew of Yurchikhin, Whitson and Fischer are expected to leave the station in September.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SpaceX Scores! Re-Used Dragon Docks with ISS

View from ISS: Robotic arm guides the captured Dragon cargo ship to its docking port. (NASA TV)

It has been a dream of the folks at SpaceX to begin launching re-used spacecraft, with the goal to reduce costs of space transportation. Well they can check off a major milestone now, because on June 3rd, they launched the first refitted Dragon cargo space capsule on board a Falcon 9 rocket. Days later, the Dragon caught up to the ISS and astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer used the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) robotic arm to grapple the craft and move it to dock at the U.S. Harmony module.

Current locations of docked spacecraft at the International Space Station. (NASA)
The Dragon spacecraft used on this mission (CRS-11) was previously used on mission CRS-4. After returning safely to Earth, it was unloaded, inspected, cleaned, and repaired with some new parts to keep it in operable condition. The only spacecraft to have done this sort of thing before, was the Space Shuttle, last docked at the ISS in 2011. This is the second time SpaceX has reached a re-usability objective - the first was in March when a refurbished Falcon 9 first stage successfully delivered a satellite to orbit and then landed again. Although the Falcon 9 used in this mission has not flown before, it did land safely at LC-13 at Cape Canaveral, and will now be refurbished for a future flight.
Falcon-9 rocket safely standing after an upright landing on pad LC-13. (SpaceX)

The ISS crew will take their time removing science equipment and space parts from the Dragon. It will stay docked until July 2nd. This week will keep them quite busy, as the schedule sees two spacecraft events: the undocking of Russian Progress 66 from the station, and the arrival of a new Russian ship, the Progress 67.